Arch Patton Adventure
By James Strauss
4:00 a.m. slammed down like a guillotine blade; bringing Arch’s eyes open to full wideness with a jerk, his head swinging up off his pillow to stare at the now open bedroom door. The door swung back toward the frame. It had been the sound of the old solid wood slab hitting drywall that had awakened him. He fumbled under the pillow for his sidearm but there was nothing there. Ilke filled the doorway, naked, holding out two cups of steaming coffee before her as she glided into the room, avoiding the swinging door.
“Time to rise and shine,” she laughed, pushing one of the hot cups at him. “So to speak, anyway,” she added, sitting down on the edge of the mattress. “You’re gun’s where you left it, if you’re that afraid of me.” Ilke pointed at the cheap dresser against the far wall.
Arch accepted the coffee after rubbing his face. “What time is it?” he asked, trying not to burn his lips or spill the coffee.
“It’s the time you wanted me to wake you,” she responded.
Arch checked his Breguet. “Okay, okay. Plenty of time until dawn.
We want to be underway by dawn. Four-thirty and we bring it all together in the suite.”
“Duh,” Ilke said, over her cup. “I think we covered all that last night.”
“Right,” Arch answered, feeling like an idiot. “The stuff. I never checked on Nash last night. Did he pick up everything?”
“How would I know? I presume or we’d have heard. I was with you, remember?”
“Yes, okay,” Arch said, determined to shut up until he was fully awake and not likely to say anything else that would make him appear even more stupid.
“What does a girl wear for crap like this?” Ilke asked, but Arch didn’t answer, instead concentrating on getting as much coffee into his body without burning himself as he could. “Okay then,” she went on, “so I’ll shower first.” She put her cup on the dresser and headed for the bathroom.
“Temperature,” Arch blurted out. “Warm in the air but once we get out of the gulf and into open water offshore the water will be in the fifties. It can get cold at speed out there close down on it.”
Arch listened to the water running. The window was dark, as the sun would not provide any light for several more hours. Ilke had turned on all the lights when she’d risen before him and he was surprised that act alone hadn’t awakened him. He’d left his gun on the dresser, which wasn’t like him either. He drank the coffee down. He’d wait. Old Marine training required that he not forego the shower or brushing his teeth. Twice a day. In the morning and before bed. Shave. Every day. Deodorant. Pants could be worn only twice, and the same with shirts. Underwear was fresh every day. Working with other men in close circumstance required cleanliness for health and neatness for comfort. Missions didn’t usually fail because of poor execution. They failed because of poor foundations.
It was four-thirty five when David knocked on the suite’s outer door.
Arch knew it was David because the man always used the same knock. Five small taps in a row and then nothing. If the door was not opened in less than three minutes he wouldn’t knock again, Arch knew. He’d leave and wait in the lobby or somewhere nearby to see what the problem might be. Arch let him in.
“Nash get the package?” Arch asked, tucking his shirt into his jeans.
He glanced behind him. The door to the bathroom was still closed with Ilke back inside.
“Thunder,” David replied. “He slept on the boat with Toon. They’re building a small platform close to the stern. There’s no other flat place for the tripod, should it come to that. You think we need such heavy shit? What about the cavalry? Christ, the Navy’s got to have plenty of gunships nearby if we have to call them.”
“You’re not getting it,” Arch said. “We’re on our own. Unless they have an Orion aircraft up in the air or some look down shoot down crap flying they’re not going to know where we are and we’re not telling them.”
Ilke came out of the bathroom and greeted David with a smile. “You want one of these Keurig things?” she asked, holding out her near empty cup.
“Nah,” David replied. “Let’s head up to Griffen’s room and get started.”
Everyone was in the room when Nash showed up a few minutes late in his swimsuit and dumped a wet messy looking device the size of an orange onto the coffee table.
“There it is,” he said, working to towel himself dry. “Old school but effective. GPS with passive location. Not satellite stuff. Something not far away lights the thing up.”
“Griffen, take it apart and see what you can see,” Arch instructed. “Let’s get down to the wire on what we’re doing,” he went on as Griffen scooped the GPS locator up and took it across the room.
“We’re headed for the second target first and we’re not telling anyone until we’re there. We don’t know what the DEA is up to and I can’t seem to get in touch with our control except through short texts. There’s nothing normal about this mission and we all kind of understand that so we’re changing things a bit which also means we won’t have any support showing up quick enough if things go wrong. It’s my call and I’m making it.”
“Fuel?” Thompson asked into the few seconds of silence that followed Arch’s discomforting change.
“The run down to Key West is about a hundred and twenty miles. There’s a whole marina with everything we might need. The fuel issue isn’t an issue anymore. We’ll refuel going in and then coming out too if that’s necessary. Half the trip to Key West is along the inland waterway or on the gulf side. We’ll be exposed to the roughest waters for fifty miles or so but we’ll be running in the trough and there’s no way around that.”
“We could quarter out east into the open ocean, and then use the following sea to come up on the target,” Thompson replied.
“That adds hours out there in the rough stuff and since we’re not announcing our intentions it also means longer exposure to sensitive prying eyes,” Arch said, knowing his answer wouldn’t suffice.
“So we’re not just changing the order of our commitment, we’re hiding out from our own guys?” David asked, his voice rising a bit.
“German,” Griffen broke in from where he was working atop some newspapers spread out in the far corner of the room. “It’s older German stuff. High quality, but no question.”
“That tells us what, exactly?” Nash asked.
“Shit,” David said, shaking his head. “Only we use German stuff.”
“Yeah,” Arch agreed.
“Your own people are following you?” Ilke said. “What kind of strange people do you really work for? Can’t they just call you and ask where the hell you are? We all have cell phones, you know…or we did before you took them.”
“Don’t the German’s use German electronics?” Griffen asked, wrapping up the remains of the GPS unit and rising to his feet.
“The Germans?” Toon said into the brief silence before the rest of them, except Griffen, broke up laughing.
“Yeah, don’t forget the German’s Toon. Remember when they bombed Pearl Harbor?”
“There’s no point to going further with this subject,” Arch said, holding out both arms to quiet them. “Where’s the heavy weaponry?” he asked, turning his attention to Nash.
“It’s on the boat,” Nash answered. “Two thousand rounds of M21 tracer, the good ones for short range and plenty of black tip special junk. I got hold of some wood and it’ll take me about half an hour to build the platform on Thunder’s stern, but I’ll need some help to mount and operate the thing later on. It’s an older M2 fifty caliber, which means it’s wonderfully made and won’t jam but it’s heavy and cumbersome as hell.”
“Machine gun?” Ilke asked, her voice expressing shock. “Heavy machine gun? I thought this was going to be a rough boat ride to pick up some stuff and come back.”
“You want out?” Arch shot back, tersely, holding out her cell phone but not giving it to her.
“No,” Ilke replied, holding out her hand for the phone. “I just thought you people would be more organized, more prepared and know a lot more than you seem to.”
Arch handed out everyone’s cell phone he’d collected the evening before, notably avoiding David in the process.
“We hit Key West before noon. Fuel up and head down. The waters are difficult where we’re going because of the tide and the swell. Thunder draws almost five feet. The hull’s aluminum so we can take some light hits if we get in too shallow. Once we come out of the open sea and trace our way back into calmer gulf-side waters we’ll be able to see the bottom off the bow if we move slow, and we’re going to move slow to avoid obstacles and notice. We’ll check out the charts and satellite stuff for the actual target when we are at the marina but we’re going to hang offshore until dark. The only real advantages we’ll have are surprise and high quality night vision.”
“And the fifty,” Nash added, his voice pitched deep and masculine.
“You can buy good night visions stuff on Ebay,” Griffen stated.
“Thanks for your input Griffen, now get to work laying out the route we’ll be taking,” Arch responded, thinking about how difficult it could be having unqualified non-players along on such a delicate mission.
“We depart in one hour from right now,” Arch stated, looking at his Breguet to make visual point. “Sanitize your rooms. I’ll prepay them so we have a place to come back to, and a car ready to go, if we need to go. All computers and smart equipment goes with us. Make sure your waste baskets are clean.”
An hour later, with the sun just providing enough light to see the hotel from the top deck of the boat, Arch waited. Everyone made the deadline he’d set except Griffen, who slowly lugged all of his stuff in two rolling suitcases and a flat canvas sack for his computers. He was three minutes late by the time he was aboard but Arch said nothing, merely motioning to Nash to let the lines holding them to the dock go.
Nash jumped aboard as Thompson slowly backed Thunder out into the channel. Griffen plopped his bags at Arch’s feet and hurried to set up his laptop on the console in front of the helm Thompson was already bolstered into. He worked to seal it to the wooden surface using double stick tape. Arch unceremoniously tossed Griffen’s bags down the short ladder into the cabin area.
“Why didn’t you leave that crap in the room, like the rest of us,” he said over to the feverishly working man.
“Stuff, delicate stuff to record all this and to make sure we have sensor’s out, not that it matters if it’s all broken from being tossed around.”
Arch contritely went below to gather in Griffen’s bags and secure them to a bulkhead with canvas straps. The ride to Key West would be rough out in the gulf but not real rough compared to when they hit the open ocean after Key West later in the day. The inland waterway extended most of the way down from Key Largo where they’d cross over into the gulf for the last forty miles to the backside of Key West.
Arch secured Ilke to the back cushion behind the bolsters the rest of them would be secured into. Her view would be non-existent forward but she’d be able to see out of both sides of Thunder well enough to know where they were going. Thompson eased the twin throttles forward and Thunder responded, almost instantly coming onto plane but still only running at about fifteen knots.
“Planes real nicely,” Arch said, setting himself into his bolster on the left side of Thompson.
“Yes,” Thompson answered. “she’ll only draw about two feet as long as she’s on plane but four or five if we go slower.
Thunder eased out from the connecting channel into the main waterway.
“Light them up but hold our speed well below maximum,” Arch ordered. “We don’t want to draw too much attention. Cigarette boats don’t come out to play this early and the fishermen might get a bit feisty if we pass by too quickly. This thing pushes a pretty big bow wave out there.”
With all of them strapped in and the throttle forward Thunder leaped ahead until the wind was howling by. Arch looked over at the twin tachometers. They were both registering just under five thousand RPM. Arch pulled out his iPhone and touched the speedometer app icon. A few seconds later the round representation of a speedometer appeared with an arrow holding at fifty-five. They were traveling just at fifty knots and the Lambo monsters behind them still had forty percent of their power left.
“Interesting boat,” David said, to Arch’s left. “Interesting boat and interesting boat ride.”
Arch didn’t answer, his mind racing ahead to the coming surprises that had to be waiting for them at the second, now first, target. The mission was turning into nonsense but the money would be everything.